A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor Wales

The Tudor era is arguably the pinnacle when it comes to historical tourism in England and over 400 years since the official culmination of the age of Tudor Monarchs in 1603 the industry does not appear to be slowing down in its consistent output of material. Films, Movies and books about the varying characters and personalities continue to prosper whilst tourist attractions such as the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace see visitor numbers at record highs. William Shakespeare’s work continues to be used in schools up and down the country whilst eminent historians like Lucy Worsley, Suzannah Lipscomb and the ever-controversial David Starkey are regularly found discussing their views on a myriad of television and radio programmes. “Tudor England” in itself has become a well-known phrase that covers many aspects of the era, particularly architecture and the lifestyle. Many towns and cities pride themselves on the remnants of this period, including Chester, York, Cambridge and particularly Statford-Upon-Avon, the celebrated hometown of the aforementioned Shakespeare. Major events in the history of England also took place under the rule of the successive Tudor Monarchs of Henry VII, Henry VIII and his three children Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. The battle of Bosworth in 1485 where the Tudor’s ascended to the throne is often considered the beginning of the Modern English nation, whilst under Henry VIII came the incredibly important English Reformation and break with the Roman Catholic Church that ultimately set first England and then Britain on a distinct course separate from Continental Europe that endures to this day. Other infamous events include the defeating of the Spanish Armada and the dissolution of the Monasteries, whilst prominent English personalities such as Sir Thomas Cromwell, Sir Thomas More, Sir Francis Drake and of course Queen Anne Boleyn retain a degree of notoriety half a century after they walked the land in which they prospered. Suzannah put it perfectly in her recently acclaimed guide “A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England” by stating “As a nation, we have a continuing obsession with our notorious ‘Bluebeard’ Henry VIII, and our famed ‘Gloriana’ Elizabeth I. Their lives – one much married, the other unmarried – are part of our common currency of ideas. Their age attracts us because it has all the best stories; the break from Rome and Catholicism, wives beheaded or cast aside, boy-kings, dissolved monasteries, Protestant martyrs, the Spanish Armada, New Worlds and some of the best characters”. That the Tudors shaped the modern English nation and gave birth to English nationalism in particular is undeniable.

This being said, the Tudors patrilineally were a Welsh dynasty and whilst England was unquestionably the focus and location of the major machinations and intrigues of the period, Wales did not fully escape unscathed from the architecture and events of the 16th century or the years preceding. Wales had been conquered by the previous Plantagenet Kings of England and for all intents and purposes was merely another constituent part of the Kingdom of England. Unlike the separate and self-governing Kingdom of Scotland, what affected England had a direct impact in Wales. However whereas Tudor England begins in 1485 when Harri Tudur ascended to the throne upon the death of King Richard III, the dynasty from which he hailed has a much longer history in the Land of his Fathers. The English locations are in many cases famous and known to people around the world, from your “Hampton Court’s” and “Hever Castle’s” to your “Tower of London’s” and “Westminster Abbey’s”, but Wales’ connections tend to be much more obscure and in many cases completely unknown even to those with a great interest in the Tudors. This is not to say that they deserve to be overlooked however and those with more than a passing interest in the Tudor dynasty may find new locations to become enamoured with. It is vital to note that the following locations that I will review will have little to do with the Tudor Monarchs themselves but will primarily concern either their ancestors or subjects. With apologies to Dr Lipscomb for clearly adapting her innovative idea, welcome to a “Visitor’s Companion to Tudor Wales”.

Tenby Town

Tenby, or Dinbych-Y-Pysgod to give its Welsh name, is a thriving seaside resort on the Pembrokeshire coast that has managed to retain its traditional charm somewhat in spite of the droves of tourists that can be found flocking through its streets each summer. Overlooking the Carmarthen Bay, Tenby has all the perfect components that constitute a stereotypical British seaside getaway, including a promenade and a bustling beach. With colourful houses nestled tightly inside the dramatic Pembrokeshire coast, Tenby has built up a reputation as one of Wales’ top tourist spots and remains a favourite for those whom prefer holidaying in the UK as opposed to flying to warmer climes. As an historic seaside port, Tenby has played a major part in the history of the region, none more so than during the latter parts of the 15th century when the major power in the area was Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke and uncle to the Henry Tudor. As half-brother to the beleaguered Lancastrian King Henry VI, Jasper Tudor was unwavering in his loyalty to his sovereign in the face of a vicious challenge from the various Yorkist pretenders. Adopting Tenby as the centre of his powerbase in South West Wales, one of Jasper Tudor’s first implementations to the town was to expand on the impressive 13th century walls that surround the settlement. As a Norman Marcher Lord town, Tenby found itself under threat from the native Welsh princes and was razed to the ground by the great Prince Llywelyn of Gwynedd in 1260, causing alarm amongst the citizens and ensuring that the walls would be improved and strengthened. When based at Tenby during the height of the Wars of the Roses, Jasper ordered the mayor and the town’s burgesses to further reinforce the fortifications should he and his supporters find themselves under attack. His main aim appears to have been to thicken the town’s walls by an incredible 6 feet and further increasing the height to dominate the area. Today the remains of these walls can still be viewed at various points throughout the town, although none of the ruins capture the imagination like the impressive Barbican gate known colloquially as the Five Arches, a gateway that lets the visitor imagine they are a visiting 15th century soldier or merchant. One thing must be noted here is that four of the smaller arches were only made in the 19th century to allow greater access into the town for the increasing needs of the Victorians, although the larger arch is the very gateway from the 15th century albeit unfortunately without the portcullis.

Once through the town walls, located in the centre of Tenby is St Mary’s Church, an Anglican Communion member of the diocese of St David’s and a constant in the religious history of the town since at least the 13th century, although it is often believed to have existed for even longer. Today’s church has had many improvements over the years but the majority of the remains come from the 15th century and the time when young Harri Tudur and his Uncle Jasper Tudor would have known the area. The imposing spire itself was added in the 15th century when Tenby was at its prosperous peak and was a landmark of the area, improving the impressive 13th century tower on which it stands. The tower itself can be climbed and once on top the visitor has fine views across the harbour port, as well as the tight houses, town walls and narrow streets giving a glimpse of how the town grew around the water. The high viewpoint also allows breath-taking views out to sea of Caldey Island and across Carmarthen Bay, particularly on a clear summer’s day. With regards to the 15th and 16th century Tudor connections, the church contains several memorials of local figures including a remembrance tablet to Robert Recorde, court physician to King Edward VI and Queen Mary Tudor and notable as the man whom is the father of Algebra, Arithmetic and Geometry. Of the remembrances however none are more prominent than that of the town mayor Thomas White. Mayor White earned a degree of fame for his actions in 1471 when, after the disastrous defeat of the House of Lancaster at the Battle of Tewkesbury, Jasper Tudor collected his teenage nephew Henry Tudor and escaped to his stronghold in Tenby. Hunted by the Yorkist army and undoubtedly realising that his young charge Henry was now the de facto head of the Lancastrian faction, Jasper allegedly hid in tunnels underneath the town before being led to a waiting ship in the harbour with Thomas White’s assistance. This escape from the harbour ensured Henry’s life was not ended before he had reached adulthood and set in motion his future invasion. Mayor White, together with his son John whom would also become Mayor of Tenby, was one of the merchant’s whom had made a successful living from the harbour and lived at Jasperley House, situated in the centre of the town where the modern Boots now has pride of place. The tombs of both Mayors, father and son, have pride of place in St Mary’s Church which is on the very doorstep of the small area in which they were a dominant force in the late 15th century. Behind Boots stands another large townhouse under which the Tudors were said to have escaped through the cellar tunnels and today it is on here that a blue plaque stands, reading “It is said that Henry Tudor (Later King Henry VII) escaped through a tunnel here in 1471 when he fled to France”. Opposite this lies a bright pink coloured building which is titled “Richmond House”, undoubtedly as a nod towards the Earl of Richmond whom once crawled from captivity below the very streets the house is built on.

The harbour itself lies behind this building and it was from here that Henry and Jasper fled to Brittany in a large Barque, passing St Catherine’s Island as they did so. Today the island is better known for the large fort that sits ominously on the rock and which was built during the Victorian era to protect the coast from a French threat. During the 15th century however the Island was actually the property of Jasper Tudor himself, and one wonders what he must have thought as he sailed past his property and out to sea in 1471 for an uncertain existence. Tenby today may be a nice tranquil seaside resort however in the Walls, Merchant House, Five Arches Gate and St Catherine’s Island still holds many links to its bygone era when it was a place of strategical importance to the Tudor family. Although St Catherine’s Island is currently under private ownership the rest of the locations are open year around and is certainly a pleasant to spend a day wandering around.

Tenby Merchant’s House

Tenby’s Merchant House is exactly what the name suggests, a merchant’s house situated in the heart of the Pembrokeshire coastal resort of Tenby, and a wonderful relic of how the emerging middle class prospered during the early Tudor reign. Built at the end of the 15th century, this three story house would have belonged to a successful merchant in the town and allows the visitor to step back in time to see how a Tudor businessman and his family would have lived. Operated by the National Trust for 75 years, the Merchant’s House allows the visitor to sample Tudor furniture, discover an array of the era’s exotic spices and also ascertain how a family operated within such confines.  Situated in the very town that Henry VII’s uncle Jasper had made his stronghold during the bloody Wars of the Roses, by the year 1500 the prospering town’s position out west of the Island ensured a busy sea trade with nations such as Spain and Portugal and guaranteed a scintillating and eventful existence for those whom took advantage of such a natural advantage.

The Merchant himself would have operated from his shop in the front of the house and amongst other things would have enjoyed a brisk trade in selling products he had obtained such as wool, vinegar and various exotic spices and salts. Other vital commodities that would have been imported from abroad would have included Irish Linen, Wine from Gascony and even Sugar from Portuguese territories. In return the merchants would also use the bay to export goods such as coal and wool to make money. When you first walk into the entrance from Bridge Street, you purchase your ticket in the hallway that seemingly doubles up as both a shop and a mini exhibition of the various spices on offer. Going through into the house proper you are met by a large table in the middle of the room and the great fireplace on the opposite wall, the table full of herbs and bread emphasising that you are in the kitchen area. As the outside stairs have long been demolished, you can make your way up a modern stairway into the first floor which was the communal living space for all the family. The first table you come across has various 15th century children’s toys scattered on it whereas in the corner of the room is situated the latrine, similar to others of the age consisting of nothing more than a hole in the floor and a deep drop down to the cesspit. Also in the room is the high table for the merchant himself and imitation tapestries along the wall, including one which prominently features Jasper Tudor himself. Escalating up the final stairway, you come into the bedroom of which the centrepiece is the master bed, accompanied with another fireplace, fine wooden timbering in the roof and magnificent views out to sea for the merchant to keep a close eye on those coming and going. Today, under the protection of the National Trust, the Merchant’s House has effectively become a living house again with demonstrations of the period enjoying visitors from all areas and backgrounds eager to see with their own eyes the way the other half lived during these exciting times. With actors in Tudor costumes undertaking 15th and 16th century daily chores under the auspices of historians it is a place worth visiting to transport one’s self back 500 years. As said earlier, the house is situated just off Bridge Street in the centre of the town and this historic townhouse is open from Sunday to Friday during the months of April to October and can be seen for the reasonably low price of only £3.20.

Dale

After Henry Tudor, deposed Earl of Richmond, was lauded as the heir to the Lancastrian claim by the few remaining nobles loyal to the seemingly lost cause of the Red Rose it was only a matter of time before he attempted to land back in England from his place of exile in both Brittany and France. In 1483 a landing was attempted in the South West of England but King Richard III’s forces were plentiful on the coast and Henry was forced to abandon his plans. That Henry Tudor was of a respected Welsh bloodline is undisputed, and coupled with both his Pembrokeshire birth and his uncle Jasper’s standing in the region, the inspired decision was taken to land in the Milford Haven area of West Wales in 1485. In any event, the mercenary force of Henry Tudor finally landed in Mill Bay near to the village of Dale in the extreme Western part of Pembrokeshire. The date was August 7th, 1485 and Dale marked the beginning of Henry’s arduous march through Wales and England to meet the forces of King Richard III, ultimately at the now infamous Battle of Bosworth field on August 22nd, 1485 where he became King Henry VII of England and France, Prince of Wales and Lord of Ireland.

Today Dale remains a still minor village of around only 200 people and one can walk from the village centre down to Mill Bay by following the Pembrokeshire national coastal path. The bay itself is rather secluded and the surrounding cliffs would have helped to shelter the landing forces. A plaque stands at the bay today marking the spot where Henry would have alighted from his ships onto the land of his birth. Nearby, just outside Dale in fact as you drive back in-land on the B4327 you may notice on the side of the road small walkway. If you stop your car and walk along it you will realise it’s actually the small Mullock bridge from a bygone era before the modern road was built. Situated in such a rural area one wonders just how often this bridge welcomes human visitors for it is in an area where the only reason people will be there is driving past at high speeds to and from Dale. This bridge is reputed to be the crossing from the legend that accompanies Henry’s landing. In 1485 the major power in the South Welsh region was the Welshman Rhys Ap Thomas, grandson of the prominent leader Gruffydd ap Nicholas and a man whom in fact clashed with Henry Tudor’s father Edmund during the early years of the Wars of the Roses before becoming ardently loyal to the Welsh Lancastrian cause under Edmund’s brother Jasper. After refusing to support Henry Tudor and the Duke of Buckingham’s uprising in 1483 a thankful King Richard III made Rhys ap Thomas his principal lieutenant in the region. Although obligated to provide one of his sons to Richard as a hostage to ensure continuing loyalty, as was the common practice of the time, Rhys manoeuvred out of this by stating that his word and his conscience were sufficient. He is reputed to have stated that whomever landed in Wales would only be successful should it be over “over my belly”. The insinuated meaning was clear; Rhys ap Thomas would need to be killed for anyone to pass through his lands. In the event, Rhys did switch to Henry’s side but was somewhat troubled by his oath. As he had promised that Henry could only pass through over the belly of Rhys, it was decided that Rhys would stand underneath this bridge whilst Henry and his forces marched above. Thus Henry crossed over the belly of Rhys and he was absolved of his oath. Conscience clear, Rhys ap Thomas went on to become a valued acquaintance of Henry during the remainder of their lifetimes and found himself rapidly knighted and bestowed with titles and land in the aftermath of the Bosworth victory. In order to capture a similar mood to what Henry must have felt back in 1485, I suggest visiting the area in August, or at least on a warm summer’s day complete with blue skies for a pleasant stroll around this extreme westerly coast of Pembroke that is brimming with Tudor history.

Lamphey Bishop’s Palace

Lamphey is a quiet, unassuming village in Pembrokeshire which today is primarily noted merely as a settlement which you pass through on the A4139 road from Tenby to Pembroke, situated only 2 miles from Lamphey itself. As the Earl of Richmond a loyal subject to his half-brother King Henry VI, Edmund was instructed in 1455 to reassert the King’s authority in the wilderness that tended to be the West Wales heartlands, capitalising on his Welsh pedigree to earn the respect of the people in a way that an Englishman drafted in would never be able to. During this time Edmund Tudor based himself at the impressive Bishop of St David’s Palace at Lamphey, a plush retreat a few miles outside of Pembroke town itself and seemingly a location the Earl of Richmond found relaxing. The location was and still is situated in the middle of sprawling forest and parkland which together with the fishponds and orchards ensured everything the Earl required was openly available. The Bishop himself was John de la Bere whom whilst never living in his own diocese was a keen favourite of King Henry VI, thus ensuring that he and the Earl were keen acquaintances from the outset. It was at Lamphey palace that Edmund had honeymooned with his young bride and seems very possible that it was here at his Pembrokeshire headquarters that his son was conceived sometime during 1456. Today the palace is a ruin albeit with substantial remains that allow you to picture how the retreat would have appeared to the visitor in the 15th century. When you arrive outside the palace you are simply met with a plain outer wall that cleverly belies the magnificence that lies inside. As you enter the courtyard for the first time you realise you are standing in a ruin that has incredibly avoided becoming just another busy tourist attraction.

In the middle lies a tower that stands alone amongst the lush green grass of the court, an undeniably romantic location. In the furthest corner of the yard lies the bulk of the remains, from the great hall to the perfectly intact cellar underneath. It would have been here that the living quarters of Edmund Tudor and his young wife Margaret Beaufort would have been situated and certainly a picturesque area of solace. Lamphey can be visited during the spring and summer period from April to October for only £3.20

Carew Castle

Pembrokeshire, the county that gave birth to Henry Tudor and with it arguably the Tudor Dynasty, is a region resplendent in castles and forts from its period as an important marcher location in suppressing the local Welsh resistance during the Norman advances after 1066. None of these Norman buildings are more striking than Carew Castle, a castle you first glimpse as you drive past it on the A477 between Carmarthen and Pembroke Dock as it rises into view on your right. Entering through the castle through a small outer gatehouse, the sheer size inside is surprising for a castle relatively unknown to those whom aren’t local to the area. With architecture that is fairly common to most castles, including the standard ruins of a great hall, courtyard and chapel, what particularly stands out about Carew Castle is the amount and the size of the window’s both on the inner castle walls and the outer structure itself. In fact it is the large D-shaped towers that face the visitor as they approach the castle with their marvellously modelled windows that first make an impression. Whilst the castle’s history is of the typical Marcher type, owned by a powerful Norman-descended family in the region, with regards to Tudor links the castle’s most notable connection begins after the Battle of Bosworth when it was passed into the possession of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, the powerful Welsh noble whom ruled over South Wales with a king-like authority.

After lying down underneath Mullock Bridge near Dale and accompanying his distant kinsman Henry Tudor to the Battle of Bosworth, Rhys ap Thomas’ allegiance to the winning side proved to be a wise decision. Rewarded with a knighthood as well as lands, his increased income under the sovereignty of his new master Henry VII allowed Sir Rhys the opportunity to extend and improve the property that he owned, particularly his new acquisition in Carew. Although the new apartments that he constructed have since descended into ruins, one key component that can still be marvelled at is the Tudor windows that help transform this fortress from being just another dull remnant of the middle ages. Inside the castle there appears one more notable site of interest. Above a stairway in the inner courtyard remains three concrete coat of arms. With close study it is easy to detect that they are those of Henry VII, his first son Prince Arthur of Wales and his new wife Catherine of Aragon. As Prince Arthur would die as a teen and before he inherited his father’s kingdom and his wife would eventually become the bride of his brother, it is possible to date these coats of arms around the beginning of the 16th century at somepoint before 1502. Carew Castle’s crowning moment would come in 1507 when Sir Rhys would hold an incredible celebration of the reign of Henry VII with a great tournament of jousting and general revelry. The tournament was allegedly attended by around 600 knights alone and proceeded for 5 days, culminating in a show of such magnificence it would remain talked about for many years to come. Although Sir Rhys would retain his power and prove his allegiance to the son of his beloved patron, the relationship between his family and the Tudors would be severed in 1531 when Rhys’ grandson Rhys ap Gruffudd was executed by an increasingly tough Henry VIII for treason. With this action the castle itself reverted to crown property before becoming acquired by a certain John Perrott in 1558, an alleged illegitimate son of Henry VIII. Carew Castle is a wonderful place to visit and is a location that seemingly bridges the gap between a medieval castle and a renaissance palace well. Carew is open from April to October and can be visited for £4.75.
Pembroke Castle

Certainly the most well-known location in Wales with a clear Tudor link, Pembroke Castle was the very birthplace of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond from birth and through a fortunate blend of circumstances eventual King of England. A fortress has been at Pembroke since before Norman times although in a similar manner to other castles throughout the area it was the Norman Marcher lords themselves whom fortified the small town on the estuary. Presented to Jasper Tudor in 1452 along with his new semi-regal Earldom of Pembroke by Jasper’s half-brother Henry VI, Pembroke Castle was an imposing and well-constructed fortress that overlooked the River Cleddau and offered ample protection and security. One of the particular claims that those whom held Pembroke Castle would regularly boast is that it had never been taken by the Welsh in battle and had even remained secure during the Glyndwr uprising. In fact it may have dismayed Norman Earls of Pembroke such as William Marshal to discover that the castle itself was now effectively in Welsh control under the possession of Jasper.

It was in one of the outer wards to the west of the main gate on 28th January 1457 that the 13-year-old Margaret brought her young son into the world. As well as her young age, the new mother was also very slender and had a small frame not suited to the rigours of child birth and by all accounts it was a very difficult pregnancy. In fact it probably rendered her infertile for the remainder of her life as there were no other accounts of her baring child. The child was sickly soon after his birth and good care by both his mother and the attendant nurses seem to be the core reason for this young babe not becoming yet another statistic for the high infant mortality rates of the time. Although the son was called Henry, a regal English name and possibly in tribute to the child’s half-uncle Henry VI, a later tradition suggested the original name was in fact Owain. Although no contemporary evidence exists to corroborate this account, it is interesting to note nevertheless that the aforementioned Welsh prophecies suggested an Owain would come to lead the Welsh as their Mab Darogan, or son of prophecy. Perhaps the story has some truth, although the likelihood is that it was an apocryphal story from a Welsh bard looking to further increase the myth surrounding this Welsh-born child. By blood Henry of Richmond, for he had inherited his dead father’s Earldom upon birth as was his hereditary right, was one quarter French, one quarter Welsh and half English but with his birthplace and father’s nationality considered most valid under patrilineal descent, it is indisputable which nation would claim Harri Tudur as their own.

Today Pembroke Castle is still a fantastic place to visit and arguably unrivalled in South Wales, its outer walls covering an incredibly large area. The inner court is largely empty as previous buildings have long crumbled although the centrepiece of the fortress, the Great Keep, stands proud and with its height can be renowned as one of the largest of its kind in the UK. Although sadly Pembroke in general is sadly lacking in monuments to its historic past as a birthplace to a king, one particular outer ward tower in the castle is proudly termed the “Henry VII tower”. Inside is an exhibition containing the scene surrounding the moments after the birth of the baby Henry with life-size statues of Margaret Beaufort and her nurses looking after the young infant. Pembroke Castle should do more to attract tourism and could, with the right ideas, become just as important a Tudor location as anything England can offer as the birthplace of a dynasty. Nevertheless, the castle still remains an attractive place to spend a day and should be visited at least once. Entrance is £5.50 and it is open daily.

St David’s Cathedral

St David’s Cathedral is the spiritual home of the Welsh nation and has remained so for almost 1500 years since its founding in the 6th century. Situated on the West Welsh coast in Pembrokeshire, the Cathedral has had a storied and often turbulent history, from being sacked by the marauding Vikings in the 8th century to its tragic slighting by Cromwellian forces in the 17th century. The vulnerability of the cathedral was such that unlike many holy buildings which were built on high land, St David’s is built deep into the valley floor in an attempt to avoid detection by any passing ships eager to loot its belongings. The importance of St David’s was such that by the medieval period it was state that two pilgrimages to the altar were equal to one to the Vatican, the home of the Catholic Church itself. Often used as a place of sanctuary by terrorised Princes and nobles during times of strife and upheaval, to be buried in the grounds was also considered a desirable way to leave the mortal world.

One notable tomb within the Cathedral is that of the Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd, one of Wales’ greatest leaders and the man credited with creating the modern Eisteddfod. Rhys ap Gruffydd’s standing in Welsh history is such that he was recently included in a compilation of the top 100 Welsh heroes of all time. Whilst he became known as the Lord Rhys in the aftermath of his lifetime he was referred to more appropriately during his time by his titles, commonly called the Prince of Deheubarth whilst some other documents even listed him as a Prince of Wales in his own right in direct rivalry to the Princes of Gwynedd and North Wales. His preferred title however seemed to be proprietarius princeps Sudwalliae which translated as the rightful Prince of South Wales, leaving us in no doubt about the domain that he extended his rule over. Whilst the Lord Rhys is a revered Welsh hero in his own right, this noted Prince is also a direct ancestor of the Tudor dynasty through his daughter Gwenllian ferch Rhys, whom married Ednyfed Fychan, a North Welsh noble in the employ of the Princes of Gwynedd. Ednyfed himself is generally referred to as the founder of the Tudor family as the first member of his Brynffanigl bloodline to achieve high status due to his loyal and diligent service to his patrons. From Ednyfed and Gwenllian, Henry Tudor would be their great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson. Also interred in St David’s Cathedral and of more pressing interest to those with a Tudor interest is another of the Lord Rhys’ direct descendants…Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and father to Henry VII.  Ennobled by his half-brother Edmund Tudor, as detailed under the Carmarthen Castle entry Edmund died at the castle in 1456 only months before the birth of his son and heir Henry at Pembroke. Originally buried in the Greyfriars in Carmarthen, his remains were moved to their current location in St David’s Cathedral just under a century later when his grandson Henry VIII would order the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 as part of the English reformation movement.

Edmund’s tomb was placed near the altar in the Cathedral, a fitting resting place for a man whom gave birth to Wales’ greatest dynasty. The epitaph that appears around his tomb declares: “under this marble stone here inclosed resteth the bones of that most noble lord Edmond Earl of Richmond father and brother to kings, the which departed out of this world in year of our lord God MCCCCLVI the third of the month of November: on whose soul Almighty Jesu have mercy”. St David’s Cathedral is always worth a visit regardless of Tudor links although this tomb only serves to improve the experience. Most Kings of England were in themselves the sons of the previous King and as such most tombs find themselves in the Royal burial areas such as Westminster Abbey or Windsor, so this tomb of a King’s Father in the most westerly confines of the Island is certainly worth a visit. As a working cathedral, St David’s is often open most days of the year and although free, donations are always welcome.

St Peter’s Church, Carmarthen

Carmarthen itself is one of the oldest towns in Britain and St Peter’s Church, as the town’s original place of religious worship, remains the oldest building in the region that is still used for its original purpose. As tends to be the case, its exact date of foundation is unknown and probably lost to us forever but it appears to have been a working church from the early 12th century. As the churchyard is circular in shape, a Celtic practice as opposed to a Norman one, one theory is that a church existed here before the Norman Conquest. Noted as one of the largest churches in the St David’s Diocese, it consists of a large tower, chancel, nave and particularly a South Aisle which holds an acute Tudor connection. It is here that Sir Rhys ap Thomas’ tomb can be found after it was moved from its original resting place in the Grey Friars monastery which would be closed down under Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries act. As stated under the Dale entry, Sir Rhys ap Thomas was vital in allowing Henry Tudor to progress through Wales unhindered and joined up with his new master to fight on his side at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485. The two men were actually distant kinsmen and upon Henry’s ascension to the throne Rhys found himself not only knighted but also rewarded with titles such as Justicar of South Wales, effectively King-like jurisdiction in the area. Continuing to be loyal to Henry VII, Sir Rhys ap Thomas helped the king to defeat two royal pretenders in Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck and for his resolute loyalty again found himself rewarded, this time bestowed with the incredibly prestigious Order of Knight of the Garter. To celebrate this astounding achievement of a Welshman being inducted into England’s highest Order of Chivalry Sir Rhys ap Thomas held a lavish celebration at his luxurious home Carew Castle in April 1507. Considered to be larger and grander than anything ever seen previously, Rhys also held a tournament for the hundreds of nobles to compete in with the extravaganza lasting 5 days in all. After the death of Henry VII in 1509, Sir Rhys ap Thomas remained sincerely loyal to his son Henry VIII as well and remained in total control in South Wales until his death. His tomb in St Peter’s south aisle can still be viewed and is certainly worth a visit to pay respects to a man without whom Henry Tudor would never have stepped foot off Mill Bay. Visits can be made during the day and as with most church’s is completely free, although donations are welcome.

Carmarthen Castle

Not much remains of Carmarthen Castle today, apart from a few small ruins that stand unobtrusively next to the looming town hall. Constructed on the banks of the River Tywi by the Norman Marcher Lords that settled in Wales in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, the building was more than likely build on existing fortifications that remained from the time Carmarthen was a major Roman town called Moridinum. The castle would be the scene of some brutal battles between the English lords in control of the region and the local Welsh princes eager to take back ownership of their nation. Indeed this would continue even after the conquest of Wales was complete, with Owain Glyndwr sacking the castle in 1405 as part of his War of Welsh Independence campaign. Tudor involvement in Carmarthen Castle began in 1456 when the newly-enobled Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and half-brother to King Henry VI was posted to West Wales in order to impose the authority of the king in a region noted for its lawlessness and rebellious locals. Edmund Tudor was in his mid-20’s and also newly married to the prestigious and wealthy heiress Margaret Beaufort, inheritor of the Beaufort estate and with it a flimsy claim to the title through her direct ancestor John of Gaunt. It was this link that would eventually result in their first and only child Henry becoming the Lancastrian heir to the throne in his teen years. Edmund would have been keen to prove himself to his brother and to any other nobles whom were against his sudden rise to the peerage. It was during Edmund’s posting to West Wales to battle such local chiefs as Gruffydd ap Nicholas that the Wars of the Roses began in earnest as the Duke of York Richard Plantagenet finally confirmed his desire to be crowned King of England in place of his weak cousin Henry VI of Lancaster.

Loyal to his half-brother, Edmund found himself under threat at Carmarthen Castle and besieged by Yorkist forces primarily under the leadership of William Herbert of Raglan. Imprisoned, it was either whilst locked up or shortly after being released that Edmund Tudor, father of the future King of England, died. Edmund officially died of the plague in November 1456 and was buried in the Greyfriars church in Carmarthen. He never got to witness the birth of his son, whom was born three months later at his brother’s residence at Pembroke Castle. Today the castle can be approached from inside the town at Nott Square where one of the gates still remains an impressive structure despite its ruined state. This is about as good as it gets as the castle only has minor ruins once you progress through the gate  with only one wall and one crumbling tower standing to view. Nevertheless, you are standing within metres of the place of death of the father of the first Tudor king and this makes Carmarthen Castle a place to visit in itself.

Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle is located in the town of the same name on the extreme south eastern tip of Anglesey and on the edge of the Menai strait. Conceived just after the conquest of Wales and built not long afterwards, this impressive and large fortress was designed as an impregnable defensive mechanism against any rebellions or uprisings by the native Welsh and became one of King Edward I’s famous North Welsh strongholds. Beaumaris castle today in fact is a key component of the World Heritage Site designated as the “Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd”, and with Beaumaris being derived from the Anglo-Norman word for “beautiful marshes” it gives some insight into the attractiveness of the area. The location of Beaumaris was designed to be provocative to the Welsh and to remind them of their new position as subjects of the crown of England. Indeed it was a painstaking monument to the loss of freedom for those men of Gwynedd whom went about their oppressed living under the dominant shadow of the great structure.

It was positioned on the Anglesey side of the Menai to be precisely opposite the historic royal court and palace of Abergwyngregyn and was designed to be larger and more lavish than the native Welsh llys could ever hope to be. What makes Beaumaris Castle particularly an exciting place to visit is not only the wonderfully concentric design, but the perfect symmetry with which the Castle was constructed. From the air the castle’s design is breath-taking and the sheer scale of engineering innovation needed to construct such a fortress in the 13th century cannot be understated. The inner ward itself includes 4 large towers in each corner with two more on the north and south walls. Impressively on both the east and west inner wall is two D-shaped towers on each side compromising the gigantic gatehouses. The smaller outer wall, which was designed to repel any initial attack on the fortress, was an octagonal creation peppered with many smaller towers at every angle. With every castle requiring a Constable to keep control and ensure the smooth running of the property, there are two former constables of Beaumaris with Tudor links. The Tudors of nearby Penmynydd were amongst the most powerful clan in North West Wales both before Conquest when they were dutiful servants to the Princes of Gwynedd and also in the post-conquest period when they diligently began to serve the English king. No English king received better service from Welshman than did King Richard II, in particular from Goronwy ap Tudor and his loyal brothers Ednyfed, Gwilym, Rhys and Maredudd. It was through Maredudd that Henry Tudor was directly descended from whom was his great-grandson. Goronwy held various positions of distinction and it’s an inclination to suggest he must have provided a valiant, loyal and dutiful service to King Richard, for whom the Tudur’s of Penmynydd were closely associated as stated. Known titles afforded to Goronwy included being named as a forester of Snowdon in a way reminiscent of his father, solidifying the reputation of the family yet again as a dynasty of achievement in their native area. Perhaps most significantly for this generation was Goronwy’s appointment as Constable of Beaumaris Castle in March 1382, unusual in its implementation since the Edwardian fortress had been built in 1295 and in its existence had seen only one other Welshman had been inserted into such a role. As Beaumaris was an efficient representation of English authority in the island it was undeniably remarkable for Goronwy to find himself thrust into such a prominent role. These kind of responsible and high profile appointments had previously been the monopoly of Englishmen, those known and trusted to the wary and suspicious rulers in London and presumably free from the risk of rebellion against the Crown. As Constable, Goronwy’s expected role was to essentially guard the fortress for the resident Lord whom would often not be present. The Constable would effectively be at the top of the hierarchy in his stronghold and would be in control of all those employed to keep the Castle in full and safe working order. His responsibilities would include ensuring the fortress was readily armed in case of any attack and safeguarding any persons whom were in the care of the Castle. Additionally he would be accountable for keeping the castle functioning and in particular replenished with food and drink. It was a role of privilege that many could never hope to aspire to. Regrettably for Goronwy ap Tudur, he never got to truly reap the benefits of his high appointment as only four days after his exciting appointment he seemingly drowned in a Kentish port in the South East of England. Another Constable of Beaumaris Castle was the Breton Roland de Velville whom was put in charge of the castle during the reign of Henry VIII between 1509 and 1535. The long held myth, although widely discredited by some modern Historians, is that Roland de Velville was in fact the illegitimate son of Henry Tudor from the future King’s time in exile in Brittany as a young man. Velville would prove to be undoubtedly loyal to his master and would find himself staying in England after the Bosworth campaign in 1485. Knighted sometime after and remaining in the employ of Henry, Roland eventually took over the traditional Tudor lands in Penmynydd and Anglesey which only furthered rumours that he was inheriting lands that were his right through blood. He also married into the Welsh nobility by marrying an Agnes Griffith, a scion of the Tudor family herself and thus a distant cousin to the King. The facts around Roland’s ascension are quite incredible and it is no surprise that a myth has grown up surrounding this random young Breton man whom found himself a personal favourite of a King for no clear reason.  Roland would subsequently become the grandfather of the notable Katherine Berain, the noblewoman known as Mam Cymru and prosperous under the reign of her distant cousin Elizabeth I. Whether or not he was the son of Henry VII is debatable and certainly inconclusive, a mystery for which we will never know the answer. Beaumaris captures the medieval Welsh period well and is certainly a place to visit.  Beaumaris can be visited from March to June and costs £3.80 to enter.

Penmynydd

Whilst Pembroke Castle has a valid claim as the birthplace of the Tudor Dynasty, to many North Walians the true origin of England’s most famous ruling family is a quiet, unassuming village on the rural island of Anglesey. Penmynydd, literally “top of the mountain”, lies on the B5420 road between the Menai Bridge and the town of Llangefni and with a lack of signs indicting where you are it is possible to drive through the few houses that constitute Penmynydd without realising the historical importance of the hamlet you’ve just been through. Although it may not seem it, Penmynydd was the base from which one of Wales’ most powerful families grew into Britain and Europe’s most infamous dynasty. The family which would become known as the Tudor’s began is mercurial rise in Welsh nobility circles with the 13th century seneschal to the great Gwynedd Princes, Ednyfed Fychan. As steward and chancellor to Llywelyn the Great, Ednyfed was a valued and loyal servant to his Prince and as expected was rewarded well with riches and land. Amongst his acquisitions was the Lordship of Penmynydd which would become both his and his descendant’s power base from which they extended their influence on the politics of the region. After the region was conquered in 1282 by King Edward I of England, Ednyfed’s heir’s ensured they maintained their grip on power by developing an understanding with the English royals and remaining firmly amongst the elite in Gwynedd. Ednyfed’s family reached its zenith of power in North Wales with his great great great grandchildren, the so called Tudors of Penmynydd. Their father Tudur ap Goronwy had five sons, all of whom would flourish towards the end of the 14th century as loyal servants to the reigning King Richard II. One son was Goronwy Fychan whom became noted as the Forrester of Snowdonia in 1382 as well as attaining the remarkable aforementioned position as Constable of Beaumaris Castle. Although very much a man whom was increasing his family’s prestige with each appointment, tragically Goronwy drowned not long these achievements and saw his Penmynydd land’s pass to his brothers, each of whom had their own lands and positions of authority spread around the island of Anglesey. After King Richard II was usurped by Henry Bolingbroke, the Tudor’s quickly became rebels when they joined their cousin Owain Glyndwr in rebelling against the new King in what would become known as the Welsh War of Independence. Although the eldest sons in Ednyfed and Goronwy had passed away by this point, Gwilym, Rhys and Maredudd threw their lot in with their cousin in a move that would bring success to begin with before leaving the Tudor inheritance utterly destroyed. Although initial campaigns such as capturing Conwy Castle and supporting their cousin in his first Welsh parliament in 1404 were triumphant victories, the might of the English army would eventually crush the Welsh resistance and Rhys in particular would suffer the pain that was a public traitor’s death by the method of Hung, Drawn and Quartered. The youngest son Maredudd would end his days as an exile from the law after allegedly murdering a man and escaping into the wilderness that was Snowdonia, although not before fathering a young son Owain whom would have to leave his Penmynydd home in order to make his fortune. Due to the actions of the sons during the rebellion, their influence in North Welsh politics from their base in Penmynydd came to a sudden and grinding halt, the lands passing to a distant cousin and the family disappearing into obscurity. Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur arrived in London as a young boy and it was through his incredible union with Queen Katherine of Valois, dowager queen of King Henry V, that produced Edmund and Jasper Tudor and in turn the Royal House of Tudor that found itself on the throne of England in 1485 under Owen’s grandson Henry VII. In three generations, this minor Penmynydd family had emerged from near ruin to become the most powerful family on the British Isles.

Today, there are two sites of interest in the minor village of Penmynydd that will be of interest to the enthusiastic Tudor-obsessed visitor, that of Plas Penmynydd and St Gredifael’s Church. The current house that stands at Plas Penmynydd is in itself a later construction than the one that would have been known by the 13th and 14th century Tudor family, built during the reign of their progeny Elizabeth I in 1576. What can be assumed is that this newer building was constructed on the very site that the original building stood in which the Tudor brood would conduct their affairs from. The current estate is now a private home and although the current owner is sensitive to the history of the house that he inhabits, it is not currently accessible to the public. One site that does remain open to the public is St Gredifael’s Church, the village’s historic site of worship and a constant in the area for many centuries. The church is said to have been founded as a Celtic church by the Breton saint Gredifael in the 6th Century, with the first stone church being constructing in the 12th century when the area was still the Kingdom of Gwynedd. The current building dates from around the 14th century when it would have been the local place of worship for many a member of what would become known as the Tudor family and can be found about half a mile north of the village between the junctions of two minor backstreet roads. It was here that Goronwy ap Tudur was buried in the 1380’s after his untimely death from drowning and this prominent North Welsh noble is remembered with an impressive alabaster tomb. Goronwy was the uncle of Owen Tudor and thus would become a Great-great uncle to the King of England Henry Tudor. Apart from this rare tomb of a member of the Welsh Tudor aristocracy, the Church also has later additions that proudly display the Royal Family’s connection with both the church and the village, prominently the stained glass window containing the infamous Tudor Rose and other Regal regalia that became well-documented under the Tudor reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Proudly on the window reads a motto that although only seen by the very few whom have ventured to these parts is no less as striking as any that can be found in the major London palaces of Henry VIII. The motto reads “Undeb fel rhosyn yw ar lan afonydd ac fel ty dur ar Ben Y Mynydd” which translates as “Unity is like a rose on a river bank, and like a House of Steel on the top of a mountain”. The two metaphors that may not seem immediately obvious to the reader are “Top of a Mountain/Ben Y Mynydd” which subtly refers to the place Penmynydd and the more obscure “House of Steel/Ty Dur” which represents Tudor. Elsewhere in the church, the ends of the pews bear the French royal symbol of the Fleur-de-lis which represents the incredible union of the Tudor family of Penmynydd to the French Royal Family through the persons of Owen Tudor and Queen Katherine of Valois in the 15th century. Penmynydd is not on hardly anyone’s Tudor tourist trail as the small almost uninhabited village is as far removed from the hustle and bustle of a Windsor Castle or a Hampton Court as it is possible to get, yet it is here where it all begin and as such a visit to this solitude is a must.

Hereford and Mortimer’s Cross

Although not strictly in Wales, the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross in Herefordshire is an important event in the history of the Tudor family for it was here that Owen Tudor was captured and for this reason must be included in any Welsh Tudor compilation. Owen Tudor was the son of Maredudd ap Tudur and due to his father and uncles allegiance to their cousin Owain Glyndwr’s Welsh war of independence at the turn of the 15th century had been forced to exile himself to England in order to make his fortune after his inheritance in Anglesey was left negligible. Initially serving as a page and esquire in the service of a noble knight, Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur soon found himself in the employ of the young dowager Queen Katherine of Valois, mother to the infant King Henry VI. Although how it happened as remained unclear, what is certain is within 10 years of his employ he was not only married to the King’s Mother but had had a number of children with her, notably Jasper Tudor and Edmund Tudor, whom would go on to father King Henry VII. In what appears to be a devoted love match between a Queen and her lowly Welsh subject, Owen Tudor became an ardent loyalist to his stepson King Henry VI after Katherine’s death and was a valuable soldier along with his son Jasper on Henry’s beleagured side during the Wars of the Roses. After a few initial battles, the two armies met in 1461 when they came to a confrontation at Mortimer’s Cross in Herefordshire, a small hamlet on the River Lugg roughly six miles north west of Leominster. Jasper’s army consisted of many of his Welsh allies, including the sons of Gruffudd ap Nicholas, as well as Irish, Breton and French soldiers. The beginning of the battle on 2nd February 1461 was noted for the large parhelion that appeared in the sky, literally the illusion of three sons. Edward, Earl of March and now de facto leader of the Yorkists, convinced his forces that it was a good omen as he insisted it not only represented the Holy Trinity but also the York trinity of Edward and his two brothers George of Clarence and the younger Richard. The reinvigorated soldiers under Edward’s command found themselves overawed at this omen and proceeded to rout the Lancastrians. Jasper was forced to flee but would have been heartbroken when it emerged that his elderly father, around 60 years old, was captured by the enemy and in particular the fellow Welshman and foe of the Tudors, Sir Roger Vaughan.

A bitter and still grieving Edward no doubt felt this was an ideal chance to exact a measure of revenge for the death of his father Duke Richard of York and the other Yorkists whom had died and promptly ordered that Owen be executed in the nearby township of Hereford. By all accounts Owen didn’t believe that the execution would be carried out due to his close familial relationship with the Lancastrian royal family and thus was relying on his worth as a captive to win him a reprieve. It was only as he was placed on the execution spot in Hereford’s High Town and his doublet torn from his neck that Owen realised he was to die imminently. Rather than wailing or begging for mercy like many whom found themselves reduced to trembling wrecks at the moment of their death, Owen Tudor was praised for taking his sentence meekly, both obediently and humbly and undoubtedly considering himself as adhering to the chivalric code he had always lived by. Regrettably for the aged Owen, chivalry was rapidly becoming a remnant of a bygone era particularly during the height of this dynastic quarrel and he himself had become the latest victim of a bloody dispute. Owen was then reputed to have referred to his long-dead wife when he proclaimed “that head shall lie on the stock that was wont to lie on Queen Katherine’s lap”. After the execution was completed a madwoman retrieved the head and spent a matter of time calmly brushing his hair and washing the blood away from the face, the whole time whilst surrounded by candles. The great adventurer and the man whom had invigorated and resurrected his ancient Welsh family was no more. Similar to his son Edmund, Owen was also buried in a Greyfriars Franciscan Church in the town where he was put to death. Although there is nothing to really see at the still deserted hamlet of Mortimer’s Cross, in Hereford town centre there lays a small unobtrusive plaque in the pavement that states “Owen Tudor, Welsh husband of Queen Catherine, the widow of King Henry V, was executed at Hereford in 1461 following the battle of Mortimer’s Cross. Grandfather of King Henry VII, founder of the Tudor Dynasty, his severed head is said to have been placed on the top step of the market cross which once stood near this step”.
Raglan Castle

If Pembroke Castle is the most impressive of its kind in South Wales, then Raglan certainly runs it a close second. Situated in Monmouthshire close to the English border, Raglan was noted primarily as the home base of the powerful Herbert family, a clan of Welsh nobles whom were the 15th century rivals to the Tudor family. William Herbert was a renowned loyalist to the Yorkist cause during the Wars of the Roses and eventually rose to become the first Welshman to enter English peerage when he was made Lord Herbert of Raglan in 1461 and promoted even further to Earl of Pembroke in 1468, coincidentally replacing a Tudor in the position. Herbert was also made Justice and Chamberlain of South Wales to be ruled from his highly impressive fortress at Raglan as well as gaining the privileged distinction of being allowed into the King’s inner circle. As the Herbert’s rose, the Tudor’s fell and vice versa, such was the incompatibility between the Yorkist Herbert’s and the Lancastrian Tudors in their battle for supremacy in Wales. One particular event that exemplified such a scenario was the 1461 defeat of the Lancastrian forces at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, after which Jasper Tudor was forced to leave his toddler nephew Henry behind at Pembroke and flee the country. After Pembroke was captured by Herbert’s forces the young boy’s wardship was immediately reverted to the Crown, and perhaps sensing a possibility to further his own family’s interests Herbert purchased the boy’s rights.

Henry appears to have initially continued to have lived at Pembroke Castle with his mother before being removed to Raglan Castle which was the Herbert base. Raglan Castle was based in the extreme South East of Wales in the county of Monmouthshire, a key location in the Marcher Lands and providing a good conduit between West Wales and London. Around the time Henry arrived at Raglan, the castle was undergoing renovations designed to make it an even greater display of wealth and status, particularly as William Herbert continued to rise in society. It certainly would have been one of the most comfortable places to live at the time. Here he would come under the control of William Herbert’s wife Anne Devereux and was brought up as an integral part of the household. Men rating amongst the very best tutors in the land were assigned to him, namely an Edward Haseley and an Andrew Scot, two graduates from Oxford University designed to provide the young master a top level education. Additionally Sir Hugh Johns from Gower was also noted to have instructed the Henry in matters of military. Bernard Andre would later record in his biased but detailed biography of his patron King Henry VII that “after he reached the age of understanding, he was handed over to the best and most upright instructors to be taught the first principles of literature. He was endowed with such sharp mental powers and such great natural vigour and comprehension that even as a young boy he learned everything pertaining to religious instruction rapidly and thoroughly, with little effort from his teachers. Indeed, at this time the highest disposition for virtue shone forth in the boy, and he was so attentive in reading and listening to the divine office that all who watched him saw signs of his future goodness and success. When as a young man he was initiated into the first principles of literature, he surpassed his peers with the same quick intellect he had displayed as a boy”. When Henry became King, he displayed his gratitude to what must have been a fulfilling education when he rewarded all those that played a part in his childhood. When Polydore Vergil created his biography of Henry during the latter’s reign, he recorded that Henry “was kept as a prisoner, but honourably brought up”. This was also exemplified when, similar to his tutors, Henry brought Anne Devereux to court once he was King to show favour to this woman whom played a key part in his development. After Herbert was killed in 1469, Henry was quickly recovered by his uncle Jasper Tudor before the two of them escaped capture by fleeing to Brittany from Tenby Harbour in 1471. Today the ruins of Raglan are still plentiful particular the Great Tower, of such a great height that one simply must climb it. Similarly to Carew Castle, the French-inspired Raglan has a plethora of Oriel Window’s still intact as well as the recently refurbished Great Staircase. Complete with moat and impressive gatehouse, wandering around the grounds allows you to get an idea of the views, smells and sounds that would have greeted the growing Henry Tudor as a young boy as you walk in his steps. Raglan, a castle which displays all the benefits afforded to rich and powerful 15th century nobles, can be visited during the early summer months for £3.50.

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Categories: Tudors | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor Wales

  1. Kathleen Hestand

    Makes me really want to go to Wales! Thanks for the absorbing historical details!

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